Use it til it Breaks

I went up to 181st Street today to drop off a return at UPS. A book I ordered from Amazon didn’t arrive in time so I had no use for it and figured I might as well get my money back. I love Amazon’s return policies. The refund was processed as soon as the item was scanned in by UPS.

While I was walking down the street, I overheard a conversation between a girl and her mother. We were standing near each other on a corner while waiting for the light to change. The mother was telling her daughter that she was going to get her a new phone in heavily accented English. The daughter, who spoke English without an accent, told her mother that the phone she has works fine and she doesn’t need a new one. This escalated almost into an argument with the daughter telling her mother that her phone works just fine and she’s going to use it until it’s broken before she gets a new one, because she doesn’t see the point of replacing something that still works.

I had a few thoughts about this. Was the mother a first generation immigrant and the daughter born here? Is it a conflict of identity? What I mean is, does the mother see herself as being American through participation in consumer culture while the daughter doesn’t feel the need to? Is it a result of first generation immigrants trying to accumulate material wealth as a response to a previous life of (by US standards) deprivation? Maybe the daughter is more concerned with the planet or the ecosystem and the mother doesn’t understand or care about those things. Or maybe the mother just really wanted to get something nice for the girl and doesn’t know what else to buy her.

Anyway, I’m glad it’s getting warmer again. This winter was like a long period of hibernation. I’m looking forward to going out and exploring the city again.

Background Noise

A few days ago I was standing on the train, looking around. Sometimes I like to just look at the other people on the subway and wonder what their lives are like, what they do, think, or believe in. How do they view reality?  It makes me think about the way that I view and interact with other people. In a place like New York City, there are just so many people that invariably some of them fade into the background and just become noise or static at the edge of the story of my life.

That’s sort of sad to think about. Some people are a brief hello, or a shape in the hallway, or a flash of color against the snow. But it isn’t really possible to form longterm and meaningful relationships with everyone we meet. I read a study one time that said it’s only possible for people to have about 250 relationships in total. By that, the report meant meaningful relationships where we actually know about other people and keep up with them. After that, our minds just can’t keep the story straight anymore. That’s probably pushing it too. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, because I move so often, but I don’t know that I’d be able to, or even want to have, more than two dozen people at a maximum that I keep up with regularly, outside of family. Maybe it’s laziness, or maybe I’m just interested in developing a few relationships that matter, instead of a lot of relationships that don’t.

Anyway, I like to try to put myself in the shoes of the people around me, or to imagine the world the way they might be seeing it. Sometimes it helps me to remember to be a better person, in terms of common courtesy, and it helps me to remember that the world doesn’t revolve around my life. There are other people with needs and concerns just as real and crucial as my own. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that, and easy to forget to be good to the people around me. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying to improve myself.

Mostly Naked People and Huge Crowds at Times Square


Last Thursday night my wife and I went downtown to meet up with an old friend who was in town for the week and we decided to walk through Times Square to take some photos. You know, the tourist thing. I even bought a few “I Love NY” magnets at a souvenir shop.

Times Square is always packed but with the weather being so mild, it seemed like there were even more people out than usual. Besides the crowds, it seemed like the number of panhandlers had increased as well. We saw a few “acts”, but in Times Square, you mostly find people who are dressed up in unusual ways that try to get you to pay them for having your photograph taken together with them.


The last time we were there, there were only a handful of people dressed up as animated characters. Now, there are dozens, sometimes with two or three of the same character standing right next to each other. Sort of takes the magic out of it, if you ask me. Not that there was much to start with, but if a kid sees three Iron Mans standing next to each other, how is he supposed to feel excited about having his photo taken? You have to at least let the kid pretend you might be the real deal, right?

There were also people dressed up in costumes to bait adults into paying for photos. A few years ago, there was only one naked cowboy; now there are two naked cowboys, a naked Indian, and some naked women as well. Well, not completely naked, but mostly naked, stripped down to their underwear and, in one case, panties and pasties.

It was fascinating watching my wife’s friend’s reaction to all this. She seemed shocked. I asked her if she wanted her photo taken with the half naked cowboys, with their junk hanging out, and she seemed really disturbed. She had earlier described the hoochie shorts women in America wear, that leave the bottom half of their butts hanging out of their shorts, as scandalous. She probably thought the mostly naked people in Times Square were scandalous too. I suppose it is. People wear less at the beach, but maybe it’s more about wearing clothes appropriate to the situation. And I suppose that’s the point of those people showing up there half dressed. They’re counting on the shock value to pay off in real money that people will shell out to have their photos taken with “crazy people” who are almost naked in Times Square.

We wound up staying in Times Square until around 11 PM. I don’t think we’d ever been there that late before. I was surprised by how bright the area still was at that time of night. Because of all of the electric billboards, it might as well have been noon on an overcast day.

Man At Astor Place Dancing With a Bra on His Head

Astor Place, Manhattan, New York City
Astor Place, Manhattan, New York City

Just another day in New York City’s Astor Place, right?

Man With A Bra on His Head at Astor Place

Wait?  Is that a guy with a bra on his head?

Man With A Bra on His Head Dancing at Astor Place

Why yes, yes it is.

Man With A Bra on His Head Dancing at Astor Place

Man With Bra on His Head Dancing at Astor Place


Man With Bra on His Head Dancing at Astor Place

This guy slowly took off his clothing while doing a very unusual dance that resembled a combination of a swimming, robot, and peek-a-boo dance.  I’m not sure why he needed to have a bra on his head to do it, but nothing about the whole routine made sense anyway.  He had a little guitar looking instrument with him, but never played it.  I only watched for about a minute, before going about my business.

As entertaining as this is, it’s a shame that he’s on the street and isn’t receiving the mental care that he really needs.  Given how much we pay in taxes every year, you’d think the government would be able to take care of the people in our society who really need it.  No one can tell me that they think this guy is just playing and should get a job, or that he isn’t suffering while we make light of his situation.  I really wish our government did more for people like him.

People Hanging Out At Union Square

Union Square Park in Manhattan, New York City.

There’s almost always something going on at Union Square, and even when there isn’t, there are still crowds of people there.  The warmer the weather gets, the more people there are.  I imagine quite a few of them are NYU students from the nearby dorms, but there were also people hanging out on the grass, having lunch, reading, or just talking to friends on the benches.

Union Square Park in Manhattan, New York City.

Union Square Park in Manhattan, New York City.

Then, of course, there are tons of people passing through to get to the stores around the Square, and to get to the subway entrances scattered around the area.  Union Square is one of the major subway stations in New York City.

Subway entrance at Union Square, Manhattan, New York City.

I like to walk through the park just to see what kind of people are there.  You never know what you might come across in New York City, after all.

Barnes & Noble at Union Square, Manhattan, New York City.

Three of my favorite stores are situated alongside Union Square: Best Buy, Barnes & Noble and Petco.  I can spend hours just browsing in those stores, especially Barnes & Noble.  Barnes & Noble is like a museum of words.  I could spend a whole weekend just browsing the shelves.  It helps that they have a coffee shop inside (which is a bit expensive, but we can’t have everything right?) and they don’t run around throwing you out if you’ve been hanging around too long.

‘Green’ markets and holiday markets are regularly held in Union Square.  I’m looking forward to finding time to explore one.  I go through there every day, and I’ve seen them quite often, but I’ve never had time to just stop and look.